How do we become more joyful in this life? We begin answering that question by noting that the human experience and expression of joy is deeply rooted in God’s desires for us. How do we know this?
Look at the middle of Ecclesiastes 9, verse 9. I love how Dorsey translates the final section of our passage this week, verses 9b-10: “For this is what God wants you to do as live and work in this life. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, because in the grave, where you are going, there will be no more working or planning or knowledge or wisdom.”
See that at the end of verse 9? “This is what God wants“! A joyful life is how God wants us to live.
That means we should evaluate ourselves, and we should invite others to evaluate us, to discover our level of joy. Ask people who spend the most time with you, “When you think of me, do you consider me a joyful person?” If the result of an evaluation of our lives is that we have to admit that we are dealing with discontent, complaining, bitterness, anger, then we are not living life as joyfully as we could be.
Therefore, as we attempt to answer the question, How do we actually become more joyful?, we remember the Teacher has already told us in the larger passage we’ve been studying this week, Ecclesiastes 8:16-9:10 (read the first post in the five-part series here.) What is extremely interesting is to notice how all the illustrations in the previous post depict people practicing joy.
Last month, my small group had an interesting discussion about how we often don’t feel like reading and studying the Bible. Maybe you’ve experienced that yourself. I have. Why is that? There are likely many reasons. What is so striking is that excitement seems to flow out of us many other times, in abundance, without even trying. At the sports game. At the party. Watching Netflix. We wonder why we can’t be like that about the Bible, about God, or maybe about a great many other things in life. How can I become joyful if I’m not feeling joy?
I encourage you to listen to this podcast. Scroll down to the Podcast section of the website, and look for “Welcome to Cognitive Studies 101”. The speaker, Leonard Sweet, says that cognitive studies has, in recent years, done some amazing work understanding the brain and emotion, such that, “It is easier to act yourself into a new way of feeling, than it is to feel yourself into a new way of acting.” Sweet goes on to day, “To get your brain to change, to get yourself to change, you don’t change by waiting until you get new feelings. Actions actually precede the emotions. Actions determine emotions! If you want to be joyful, then even when you are depressed, the way in which you become joyful, is not to wait until you are no longer despairing, it is to act as if you are joyful! Choose joy. Ask yourself what a person who is joyful would be doing or saying, then do likewise!”
But the fact of the matter is that we get stuck and we sometimes don’t know how to break out of a negative feedback loop or a depression. In those cases, I strongly urge you to seek professional help, to avail yourself of medication, to get exercise, to eat healthy, to force yourself to limit screen time, to serve others, get involved in volunteering, in a discipleship relationship with someone, in a ministry in your church. Be aware of your thoughts patterns and work hard to create new thought patterns. Remember we choose how we think. Choose to end your night by thinking about ways you saw God’s presence in your life. Choose to end your night with by listing what you are thankful for from the past day. I urge you to practice the habits of Jesus: prayer, solitude and silence, fasting, ministry, disciple-making, giving.
What the Teacher is suggesting is the raw material for choosing a joyful life. It doesn’t matter if you are young or if you are old, choose to live life with joy.
I love seeing the ladies of Faith Church’s quilting group gather on the first Tuesday of the month, sewing quilts for people in need. They even take the work home and quilt for hours at home. Over the years they have made thousands of quilts of many kinds. There is so much joy in our quilters because they are serving and giving.
Recently the kids in our children’s ministry made amazing chalk art outside under our portico. There pictures were filled with joy! I would love for Faith Church’s hallways to be an art museum of joy, filled with photography and drawings and paintings that express our joy in the Lord.
Again, sometimes there are hard things that need to be talked about, that need to be dealt with. Jesus and his disciples certainly had conflicted conversations. But because of God’s active involvement in our lives, we do not need to face difficulty with hopeless despair. There is a deep, foundational joy God wants us to experience, a joy that carries us through even the difficulties of this life. I have met quite a few people, who going through some of the very difficult things of this life, still carry themselves with joy.
What ways can you express joy in your life? Maybe after reading this post, make a list of ways you’ve seen joy in others, a list of things you are grateful for, a list of ways that you’ve seen God in the past week. We have a God who deeply loves us, who is a good God, who is FOR us in this life and who is available to us all day and all night. He finds joy in us! “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” My pray is that I and all of you who read this can grow in our understanding of God’s joy for us, so that may impact our hearts, minds and actions to follow him.